Funny story: on my 34th birthday I was 35 weeks pregnant with our first, Sophie. A few weeks earlier Mr Olive had asked me what I would like as a birthday present and I told him that I desired nothing so much as a pasta machine. Thing was, Israel at that point was in some kind of unprecedented pasta making frenzy. Put it this way: I was not the only person in the country who desired a pasta machine – to the point that (as he never tires of reminding me) Mr Olive ended up having to to comb the land back, front and sideways in order to find me one. Every supplier he tried was out of stock. Who knows into which distant and obscure regions poor Mr Olive had to venture, or how much he had to pay in order to procure me this highly desirable piece of kitchen equipment. Maybe as far as Petach Tikva. Maybe as much as 200 shekels. 😉
However, all kudos to the mister: I received that coveted pasta machine for my birthday.
And then I gave birth to a baby.
The pasta machine never even made it out of its box.
So there it sat, at the back of the cupboard, staring at me petulantly every time I opened the door to get a saucepan. It started to become like one of those embarrassing memories you think you’ve successfully repressed until, oh no, here it comes bouncing back up again. Except that pasta machines don’t bounce. They clunk.
In order to put an end to the annoying clunking in the back of my mind I made the decision this month to finally address the issue and – gosh darn it – just flipping use that pasta machine! Sophie is now 4 years old. Tom is 2. I really had no more excuses.
So I cracked open the box and last weekend I made tortellini stuffed with ricotta, chard, pistachios and cranberries and it was amazing (recipe coming to the blog soon)! But there were a few lessons I learned along the way about old Clunk (as he will forthwith be known).
Here’s the thing about using a pasta machine: it’s easy. When you know how. I used the instructions in Jamie Oliver’s first book as a guide. But still, there was a bit of trial and error involved, a bit of dumbfounded head shaking and a bit of waving my arms around like a duck before I mastered the art. And so I would now like to share the lessons I learned using a pasta machine for the first time, so that when you use one for the first time, or even for the first time in a long time, you will sail through it like some kind of stereotypical apron-wearing, top-knotted Italian mama.
- Don’t think you can get away with not clamping the machine to your work surface. If you don’t it will jump around. Also, you need a work surface with a straight edge (no lip) and enough space on the underside on which to place your clamp. Our kitchen counter didn’t fulfill either of these criteria, so I used the dining table.
- Divide your dough into 2-4 balls and work with one ball at a time. (Keep the other balls wrapped in plastic).
- Run a small amount of dough through the rollers to clean them before use and discard the dough. (The rest of the machine can be wiped and carefully dried after use).
- Use a ton of semolina flour for dusting (you could probably use any type of flour but semolina is the most authentic). I really don’t think you could use too much. You’ll need flour to dust your work surface, both sides of the dough (before and after each time you roll it), and absolutely loads if you’re stacking sheets of dough in a pile, so they don’t stick to one another. Go crazy with the flour!
- In general, you’ll need one hand to crank the handle which means that all the feeding through the rollers needs to be done with your (one) other hand (unless you are an octopus). I found a technique where I would feed the dough through from the top a bit and catch it as it came out the bottom, then go back to feeding from the top, and take turns, catching from the bottom and feeding from the top until the whole sheet had gone through.
- Flatten the ball of dough with your hand before the first time you run it through the rollers. Then run it through on lowest (widest) setting first until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.
- Fold the two short ends into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
- Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.
- As the pasta sheet gets thinner it also gets longer and you may find it easier to maneuver if you cut it in half width-ways. Just make sure you remember to run each piece through all the settings.
- Stack the pasta sheets in a pile, dusting the top of each one generously with semolina flour. Next time I might try putting sheets of parchment paper between the pasta sheets too, but still I wouldn’t scrimp on the flour.
Now your pasta sheets are ready for anything! Keep them as they are and use them as lasagna. Cut into strips to make tagliatelle. Or cut into squares for tortellini like I did.
Just remember, using a pasta machine is one of those things which can seem a little intimidating the first time you do it, simply because it’s a new skill to learn. But hopefully this list of tips will help you avoid making all my newbie mistakes and, really, as soon as you’ve done it once it quickly becomes very straightforward. You’ll soon be whipping up a batch of fresh pasta with one hand while applying your lipstick with the other. (Actually, I’m not quite sure how you would do this since you do need both hands to operate the machine – unless you are in fact an octopus. Who wears lipstick. Um… where was I?)
I’ll keep you posted on my further adventures in pasta and stay tuned for a surprisingly umami tortellini recipe coming soon!